A Jungian View of the First Vision

Hawkgrrrl Mormon 28 Comments

The First Vision is often viewed as a literal visit from two Heavenly beings during Joseph Smith’s waking hours.  Yet, he consistently refers to it as a vision.  Often, visions in scripture are vivid dreams with meaning that is applied to the larger organization rather than just the individual.  What if the First Vision is more like a dream, a foray into the subconscious mind of Joseph Smith?

http://api.ning.com/files/PfLdYwaWFRaaTFpZ4sn7TB9nv9nNpZHp2zryASEOgNa5zDoeCjX*YZMe0s5aJ8Gcw1lz5D0o-SYi2fjjkf-frtZfaoOcWb0h/first_vision.jpgJungian dream analysis includes several underlying assumptions:

  • that dreams are subjectively meaningful for the individual
  • that people, objects, animals, and events in the dream are representative of the dreamer’s inner life (and not to be taken at face value or literally)
  • that a proper interpretation of dreams can lead the dreamer to great self-awareness and to understanding the psychological direction of his/her life at a given time
  • that some themes, events or characters in a dream are archetypal or representative of collective spirituality, not just reflective of personal meaning

So, to apply Jungian dream interpretation to the First Vision, we would consider the following elements:

People.  In Jungian perspectives, people in dreams are almost always a manifestation of a part of the person dreaming.  There are seven archetypes one may encounter in a dream:

  1. The Persona is the image you present to the world in your waking life. It is your public mask. In the dream world, the persona is represented by the Self. The Self may or may not resemble you physically or may or may not behave as your would. For example, the persona can appear as a scarecrow or a beggar in your dream. However, you still know that this “person” in your dream is you.
  2. http://www.mijit.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/star_wars_episode_one_the_phantom_menace_ver1.jpgThe Shadow is the rejected and repressed aspects of yourself. It is the part of yourself that you do not want the world to see because it is ugly or unappealing. It symbolizes weakness, fear, or anger. In dreams, this figure is represented by a stalker, murderer, a bully, or pursuer. It can be a frightening figure or even a close friend or relative. Their appearance often makes you angry or leaves you scared. They force you to confront things that you don’t want to see or hear. You must learn to accept the shadow aspect of yourself for its messages are often for your own good, even though it may not be immediately apparent.
  3. The Anima / Animus is the female and male aspects of yourself. Everyone possess both feminine and masculine qualities. In dreams, the anima appears as a highly feminized figure, while the animus appears as a hyper masculine form. Or you may dream that you are dressed in women’s clothing, if you are male or that you grow a beard, if you are female. These dream imageries appear depending on how well you are able to integrate the feminine and masculine qualities within yourself. They serve as a reminder that you must learn to acknowledge or express your masculine (be more assertive) or feminine side (be more emotional).
  4. The Divine Child is your true self in its purest form. It not only symbolizes your innocence, your sense of vulnerability, and your helplessness, but it represents your aspirations and full potential. You are open to all possibilities. In the dreamscape, this figure is represented by a baby or young child.
  5. http://www.jungiananalyticpraxis.com/SpiritualPilgrim_-_small.jpgThe Wise Old Man /Woman is the helper in your dreams. Represented by a teacher, father, doctor, priest or some other unknown authority figure, they serve to offer guidance and words of wisdom. They appear in your dream to steer and guide you into the right direction.
  6. The Great Mother is the nurturer. The Great Mother appears in your dreams as your own mother, grandmother, or other nurturing figure. She provides you with positive reassurance. Negatively, they may be depicted as a witch or old bag lady in which case they can be associated with seduction, dominance and death. This juxtaposition is rooted in the belief by some experts that the real mother who is the giver of life is also at the same time jealous of our growth away from her.
  7. The Trickster, as the name implies, plays jokes to keep you from taking yourself too seriously. The trickster may appear in your dream when you have overreach or misjudge a situation. Or he could find himself in your dream when you are uncertain about a decision or about where you want to go in life. The trickster often makes you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, sometimes mocking you or exposing you to your vulnerabilities. He may take on subtle forms, sometimes even changing its shape.

Setting.  This includes the mental state of the dreamer as well as the dream setting.

Action.  This refers to the events that occur in the dream, and the actions of the person the dreamer identifies as the self.

Objects or Symbols.  These could be archetypes (symbols common to all cultures) or symbols with unique personal significance to the dreamer.

Emotions.  These reveal information important to the interpretation of the dream.

Animals.  These represent our basest human instincts.

http://soultherapynow.com/images/carl-jung-interview.jpgIn considering the various accounts of the First Vision, the elements that have a Jungian significance are:  the Persona (with a possible link to the Divine Child given the age of the dreamer), the Shadow, the Wise Old Man, and consideration for setting, action, and emotions.  There are no versions in which the vision included female figures or animals, so those elements will be considered irrelevant for this analysis.

Setting.  JS was yearning for forgiveness of his sins (1832 version) and spiritual enlightenment (all versions).  He sought “wisdom” from God directly.  He was also obsessed with his personal welfare and salvation.  This setting (pre-vision) carried into the dream state.

Immediately, JS is confronted by a Shadow type.  Based on Jungian analysis, this Shadow is JS’s repressed negative side, his weaknesses and subconscious flaws.  These flaws “bind” his dream self (the Persona), making it impossible for him to move (to progress) or speak (to represent his own interests).  IOW, in order to continue to seek enlightenment, JS had to confront and overcome his own flaws that were holding him back and making any progress impossible.  (Often, dreams make funny little puns like this.  You are “wrestling with your demons” figuratively in life, so in your dream state, you do so literally).

When he is released from his Shadow side, he finds the enlightenment he seeks in the form of light and a visit from either an angelic messenger (1832) or God the Father & the son (1838).  Regardless, these are familiar archetypes for the Wise Old Man/Woman:  an authority (what bigger religious authority could he envision?) who gives direction or wisdom or advice.  He petitions for forgiveness of his sins (1832) and to know how to obtain salvation/which church to join (1838).  Of course, these archetypes also represent parts of our own personality.  IOW, Jung might say that JS has tapped into his inner wisdom, his internal wellspring of creativity and enlightenment.

We all know the specifics of the answer he was given as recorded in the 1838 version.  Consider that advice from a Jungian perspective, and there is a subtle change.  JS asks which external source of truth is right for him to follow.  He is told to stop looking outside himself for enlightenment because those sources of wisdom are not correct and are corrupted by others’ perspectives.  He is left to wait for further inspiration (or to find wisdom from within as Jung would see the God figure as a manifestation of JS’s spiritual side).

This is a classic hero myth: the quest for spiritual wisdom.  The hero must first reconcile his double nature (the Shadow and Persona) in order to transcend and achieve enlightenment.  Interestingly, one could also see the endowment as another telling of this same story, personalized for attendees – one’s progressive quest for spiritual wisdom and enlightenment, with a similar culmination.

So, what do you think?  Is a Jungian view of the First Vision useful?  Does this add meaning for you?  Do you consider dreams and visions too similar for this type of approach to be of value?  Discuss.

Comments

comments

Comments 28

  1. Some intersting thoughts. In trying to understand the first vision I have found it useful to view it as a call that many great propehts and religious leaders have at the beginings of their carerrs. Illustrations would be the vision of Isaiah in Chapter 6 of the book of Isaiah, Martin Luther’s tower experience in which he experienced God’s grace and realized that as Paul said “the just sahll live by faith” , George Fox, the founder of the religous society of friends (Quakers) experience in which after a period of wanting to know which church was true had an experience in which he saw that only Jesus “could speak to his condition” and he knew this “experimentally” Martin Luther King’s experience at the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in which he prayed over a cup of coffee after receiving death threats and he heard the voice of Jesus telling him to continue the struggle and “he would never lead him alone”

    I believe that God spoke to all these great men( and to great women too) and Jospeh Smith at the start of their ministries to give them a sense of forgiveness of their sins and that God had a work for them to do.

  2. Bless you! Yes, this absolutely makes it more meaningful for me. We have such a tendency in the church to strip off the myth and turn everything into fact. Viewing it from a different perspective like this helps me get past the prosaic “Did God really appear in the grove?” type questions and see the transcendence of Joseph’s experience.

  3. Mytha, are you saying that this helps you because maybe the first vision isn’t literal, or are you saying it just helps add a helpful layer of complexity and meaning to the experience?

  4. Pingback: Subjectivity, Aesthetics, and Dreams « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  5. I particularly like to make and maintain a distinction between “historical truth” and “sacred truth”. Do I believe the First Vision happened? I do, in whatever literal sense Joseph took it, but I also recognize it as a transcendental experience not subject to the confines of history or human language and logic (in this respect, vision is similar to atonement).

    Jung’s analysis seems a useful starting point (among others) for analyzing the First Vision, but it shouldn’t begin and end with his categories and interpretive classifications. To turn it around in a Nibleyesque sense, this type of vision-experience is the source, not the derivative, of archetypal analysis.

  6. I was reading an great article by Davis Bitton a church historian who worked alongside Leonard Arrington.

    David titles his Article – “I don’t have a testimony of the history of the Church.” he emphasises what a testimony really is to him and this allows him the manage his expectations.

    if our expectations are well measured then we can gain useful information from the Jungian perspective whether you believe the first visit to be literal or not.

    whether literal or not it clearly demonstrates this young man’s desire to find truth.

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    Mytha – I’m glad this was helpful. I too prefer to consider the FV in context. JS had a dream that was personally meaningful to him. It had personal significance. When we assume his dream meant something for us (aside from his influence as a result of this dream’s impact to him), we leave the context and start to make assumptions that may or may not hold up under scrutiny.

    One of the things I like about Jung is that he said that people tend to assume that dreams are literal (e.g. if something happpens to a person it means that thing will literally happen to that person), which is not the case. For example, pharoah’s dreams that Joseph interprets are not “face value” dreams – they are full of symbolism and require an understanding of symbolism to interpret. The subconscious can communicate to us what we need to do, but it’s subjective and personal. It’s not always literal and obvious.

  8. Jeff – What about those times when it is not just a cigar? And how can we tell the difference?

    Hawk – I am not an expert of Jung, so correct me if I am wrong. But there is a sense that some symbols or images have an archetypal quality in that reside in a collective unconscious. If we are apply to apply Jungs views to the FV, then perhaps seeing it as an archetype, allows us to see it in that context. I mean seeing it from a Jungian perspective is not how Joseph would have understood it, but using that frame, if anything, allows us to take it out of his 19th Century context and place in an universal one. But I really liked your post.

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    “some symbols or images have an archetypal quality in that reside in a collective unconscious” Yes, and actually, some archetypes, like angels, make the dream very accessible even if one doesn’t know what personal significance (if any) angels had to JS. Angels mean pretty much the same thing to everyone in every time – they symbolize access to divine communication. When viewed from a Jungian (non-literal) perspective, the differences in the various accounts are even more insignificant. They have no significance from a psychological perspective.

  10. Nice examination, Hawkgrrrl. One of the struggles that we will always have in examining The First Vision is that the official version, as you mentioned, was written 18 years after the fact. Not only is there major discrepancies between it and the 1832 version (which is still 12 years after), but also between the other 7 or 8 versions that are available to us. This does not make it less valid, in my mind, just hard to evaluate. Complicating it all, it doesn’t appear to have been a topic of conversation among the saints for the first 4 years of the Church’s existence. I always cringe when I hear someone say that the foundation of the Church rests on the First Vision – certainly the first converts did not believe so.

    I favor your definition of “vision”, maybe defining it as an “exalted dream”. It is hard to image that it takes on the physical nature of an exchange that three earthly people might have. The same goes for Moroni’s visit. The Smith family was still in the small cabin, waiting for the completion of the house that Alvin was constructing. Joseph shared his sleeping quarters with some of his brothers. If his vision took on the physical qualities – bright light, personage entering the room, verbal instructions – that we normally equate with an everyday activity, others in the room would surely have been aware.

  11. Thanks hawkgrrrl for an enlightening post. I am always a bit confused when I get strange looks from people when I mention I’m not sure God and Jesus actually appeared to Joseph. It is, after all, called a vision. It seems like it’s transformation into a visitation is possibly cultural (although admittedly it is make more complex by Joseph saying he thought the trees would catch fire). However, despite whether cultural or not, the Brethren certainly seem to interpret it quite literally. At least that’s the message I get (and thousands of other TBM saints) when I hear people say something like “I know Joseph was visited by God and Jesus in the sacred grove” etc. etc. If they do believe it was a vision and not a visitation they certainly don’t do anything to distinguish the two.

  12. “I always cringe when I hear someone say that the foundation of the Church rests on the First Vision – certainly the first converts did not believe so.”

    I don’t because they did. Not in the sense that they necessarily cared about the First Vision specifically, but that they accepted Joseph Smith’s claim to be a prophet of God. It is as a proxy for that concept of ‘prophetness’ that today it’s said that the foundation of the church rests on the Vision. I agree it’s not strictly correct, but it’s certainly not incorrect.

    In any case I don’t see how you can differentiate between a vision of God and a visitation *from* God short of physical contact (and even that’s problematic), which off the top of my head I don’t think has occured in any recorded appearance of deity except Christ’s appearances following his resurrection.

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    larryco: The Moroni vision has some specific markers that IMO put it in the likely category of sleep paralysis. You can have a significant dream during sleep paralysis, but vivid “visitation” dreams in which you are dreaming you are lying in your actual bed are very common to sleep paralysis. There is usually a high degree of recall for these types of dreams. They are also the likely basis for incubus/sucubus experiences in the middle ages and claims of alien abduction in more recent years. The dreams are so vivid that people think these things actually happened.

    Fraggle: “In any case I don’t see how you can differentiate between a vision of God and a visitation *from* God short of physical contact (and even that’s problematic), which off the top of my head I don’t think has occured in any recorded appearance of deity except Christ’s appearances following his resurrection.” You’re kidding, right? LOADS of people have had what they believed were heavenly visitations over the centuries. Catholicism is riddled with these types of experiences. It may be easy for us as Mormons to dismiss the image of Jesus on a piece of toast as wishful thinking, but Catholics tend to accept the FV because these types of experiences are very common to their history. I think they are on better ground in accepting all rather than rejecting all but their own as some LDS prefer to do.

    And the FV was simply not known to the early members of the church. JS didn’t share that experience until later. I don’t believe that indicates that it didn’t happen, just that it was personal and important to him and not necessarily intended for others.

  14. Re 13:
    “The Moroni vision has some specific markers that IMO put it in the likely category of sleep paralysis.”

    This is the way I currently lean as well. In any case it was a vision.

    “And the FV was simply not known to the early members of the church. JS didn’t share that experience until later.”

    This is what I was going to say. Early members dedication to, and acknowledgment of Joseph Smith as a prophet seemed to be based on The Book of Mormon, and the revelations he received. At least that was my reading of Rough Stone Rolling.

  15. “You’re kidding, right?”

    …??? No. I didn’t think it was that outrageous a statement.

    “LOADS of people have had what they believed were heavenly visitations over the centuries. Catholicism is riddled with these types of experiences. ”

    I was specifically thinking of *scriptural* occurances. Apologies for vagueness.

    “It may be easy for us as Mormons to dismiss the image of Jesus on a piece of toast as wishful thinking, but Catholics tend to accept the FV because these types of experiences are very common to their history. I think they are on better ground in accepting all rather than rejecting all but their own as some LDS prefer to do.”

    I think you’re misunderstanding me. I was talking about the difference between a vision and a visitation in the way that I thought you described in the original post – namely that a vision isn’t physical. (In a vision you see something that isn’t physically there – but can neverless still be true revelation, whereas in a visitation, you are…well…visited)

    “And the FV was simply not known to the early members of the church.”

    Again, sorry for being vague, I wasn’t trying to argue that. I was just saying that we use the First Vision as shorthand for Joseph Smith being a prophet (I was going to mention the Book of Mormon as well but decided it wasn’t necessary!). When someone says that the foundation of the church rests on the First Vision, it’s really about Joseph Smith being called as a prophet during it. That’s what I was saying the early church agreed with, even if they didn’t know when or how that call occurred.

  16. “When we assume his dream meant something for us (aside from his influence as a result of this dream’s impact to him), we leave the context and start to make assumptions that may or may not hold up under scrutiny.”

    I wholeheartedly agree with with this. When asked to give a SM talk on the First Vision recently (the first time I’ve actually been assigned a topic in a long time!) I did a lot of research. One of the most interesting things that I found was that Joseph rarely cited the First Vision, and never as evidence for anything doctrinal. Early missionaries recounted the story of Moroni’s visitation rather than the FV (which testifies more of the BoM). When Joseph discusses the corporeal nature of God and Christ in the Lectures on Faith and asks, “How do we know?” he doesn’t reply “Because I saw them, that’s why!” He responds: “By the scriptures.”

    The intro to the 1832 account references Joseph’s progressive major experiences in the restoration of the Church, describing the FV as: “firstly he receiving the testamony from on high”. The FV was first and foremost a sacred and moving personal testimony of divinity for Joseph (in whatever form it came), and I think history shows he reverenced it as such. Our modern emphasis on repeating it frequently and using it as the basis for other doctrinal justification is, I agree, a tenuous proposition.

  17. “The First Vision is often viewed as a literal visit from two Heavenly beings during Joseph Smith’s waking hours. Yet, he consistently refers to it as a vision. Often, visions in scripture are vivid dreams”

    Prove this. I reject the Jungian interpretation because I reject the premise.

    Visions can be dreams, but visions are not always dreams. In fact, your use of “often” refutes the implication made by the previous sentence that visions are categorically dreams. I am aware of Lehi’s saying I dreamed a dream, or in other words saw a vision. However, I don’t believe the FV can be classified as one where Moroni’s visit could be considering the circumstances. The FV came outside, while he was doing physical work, and during open prayer while wide awake. Probably the most offensive idea is that dreams aren’t real, visions are dreams, and therefore visions are hallucinations. Moroni’s visits could have been dreams, but they were as real as any scientific experience. I see divine visions as no different than watching a recording played back on a VCR, just in our minds.

  18. Were Jesus and his apostles dreaming a shared dream on the Mount of Transfiguration? Were Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery dreaming a shared dream in the Kirtland Temple? Did Alma and the sons of Mosiah dream a shared dream? I think people think too much about some things. Sometimes a visitation really is what it is.

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    Jettboy – “Prove this. I reject the Jungian interpretation because I reject the premise.” I’ll prove it when you prove your perspective is right. Neither premise is provable because we weren’t there. We only have the written accounts to go on. You seem to think that a vision is somehow less important or cool if it is like a dream and not a visit, but I don’t see why that makes it less important. I think whatever works. It doesn’t matter what you think divine visions are, except your own. Same for me. What if we are dismissive of the simpler ways God communicates because we are seeking for a sign (or a dramatic visitation) rather than what is given?

  20. I was struck while watching the PBS special “The Mormons” that they said all religions must move beyond their founding stories to be viable.

    I think this post is a great example of one way we can move beyond the founding stories of the LDS church to remain a viable religion despite the historical contradictions.

  21. Monsieur Curie – that’s a concept taken from the Joseph Campbell/Bill Moyer book “The Power of Myth.” Great read – I highly recommend it!

    Mme Curie – Valoel’s avatar is actually a drawing that is from the Jungian archetype of the Wise Old Man/Woman. So, I nodded to Valoel, who was nodding to Jung. If you do a google image search, you get Valoel’s avatar.

    Thanks for the props on the post!

  22. The scriptural account of the First Vision is not claimed to be revelation from God to the whole Church. It is simply Joseph’s personal, potentially biased and flawed recollection (or re-creation) of an experience from 18 years earlier. He clearly admits that he is not writing the account because he was commanded by God, or while under the influence of the Spirit, but simply as a response to critics: “…I have been INDUCED to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, SO FAR AS I HAVE SUCH FACTS IN MY POSSESSION.” This last phrase is a clear caveat and disclaimer against inaccuracies and subjective interpretations.

  23. In my personal experience the forms and levels of our exposure to the infinite, spiritual side of existence, including interaction with the spirit world as a whole, including diety or official messengers from God = come in incremental amounts with varying degrees of comprehension.
    Just as there is no space without a matching kingdom…each persons mental ability, spiritual faith and maturity, intent, etc. is exposed by the wisdom of heaven (I am limited here to only positive Godly forms) to only that which can be best understood by that person …at that time.
    It is vastly varied and no form such as dream / vision / manifestation / etc. can be boxed into a pre-determined set of descriptions or explanation.
    There are millions of ways revelations come.
    There are millions of ways the millions receiving interpret them.
    I am thinking the answer for us all, instead of trying to REASON it out …since we are advised “lean NOT to your own understanding”…
    hard answers -OR at least sufficient answers may come enough to give us an individual peace and testimony for the time being in our journey of progress toward immortality and eternal life.
    Specifically pray about the part of the FV or other occurance in our history..& Joseph’s experiences. Nit picking tends to shed the value of the confirmation of the Holy Ghost. You CAN
    know for yourself. It doesn’t matter who else believes it or not. Just you. Right?
    Then you can move ahead with a firmer foundation and peace about his vision / dream / whatever!
    Love to All

  24. Goodness gracious but there is a lot of anger going on.I think Jung is a wonderful person to use in this instance because of his extensive treatise relating to religion.I find it interesting that there is an argument as to how accurate the Jungian dream analysis is for the vision. I find that argument redundant since,as some have pointed out,Hawkgirl is not presenting it as a definitive theory but more as a hypothesis as to whether or not its possible that this visions was a dream. That this hypothesis is true or not is really mute. What IS important is that the vision fits the Jungian theorem, and that by exploring that we may find deeper meaning in something we may take for granted and never really appreciate.

  25. This is a simplification of Jungian thought and the putative visions and dreams of JS and the whole Smith family. There is much going on in that family and in the Book of Mormon itself, which speaks to a spiritual/numinous journey much like Mohammed’s.

  26. I like the analysis. I agree, though, that there is more to this than just any old dream you have when you are asleep. Does Jung have a category for dreams that happen when you are fully concious?

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